Football Manager 2024 (Early Access) Review: One last hurrah

Spot on: FM24 has improved set-pieces (Sports Interactive)
Spot on: FM24 has improved set-pieces (Sports Interactive)

Sports Interactive took a massive risk with this year’s annual update to Football Manager by pre-announcing that FM25 will be a complete graphical overhaul of the game. That put Football Manager 2024 in grave danger of being a stopgap, one to miss ahead of next year’s big revamp. However, Sports Interactive has done more than enough to justify the £40 outlay.

Ironically, the biggest improvements in FM24 come to that graphical match engine. Player animations are much smoother and more varied, especially when it comes to dribbling. Players such as Mbappe, Rashford and Neymar now cut inside, glide past opponents and shimmy past two or three before scoring spectacular goals that clearly distinguish them from the part-time sheep farmers in the Latvian League.

There’s a new, simplified set-piece system, where instead of having to place every player like tiddlywinks on a pitch planner, you can now give your set-piece coach more general instructions, such as whether to man-mark or go zonal, or how many defenders to put on each post, before letting them crack on with the fine detail. The option to micro-manage is still there for those who want it, but it’s less painful for those who don’t want the fuss.

That said, Football Manager has lapsed back into one of its old weaknesses: making it too easy to score from corners. Yes, I’ve got set-piece demon James Ward-Prowse in my West Ham side and plenty of big units to aim at, but there’s no way Tomáš Souček should be scoring 10+ goals a season direct from corners.

These types of anomalies tend to be fixed by the time Football Manager gets its first major patch, but it’s disappointing to see old flaws making a Jonny Evans-like comeback.

The transfer system’s also been given a welcome tweak. If your squad has too many budget-sapping benchwarmers after a summer transfer splurge, you can now pay intermediaries (posh word for agents) to offload them for you – for a cut of the transfer fee, of course. Again, it saves some of the more monotonous admin previously required to move on players who are surplus to requirements.

Sports Interactive has cunningly noted that one reason why people don’t pay for the new version each year is they’re emotionally invested in long-term saves and don’t want to start afresh. The new option to import saves from FM23 and carry on from where you left off in the old game is a clever move, although a few things do get lost in translation. Your finer tactical plans – especially set pieces – will need reworking, and regenerated player appearances might change. My previously mohawked wonderkid now has a boring crop top, for example.

There are lingering irritations that we’ll have to wait for FM25 to (hopefully) purge. The monotonous press conferences remain, with the same questions and multiple-choice answers that have been in the game since Harry Redknapp was considered a bright young managerial hope. Likewise, the training system remains boring to manage.

I’m disappointed to report that some of the bugs I saw in the Early Release version of the game have notbeen squashed for the full launch. I’m still seeing the game crash with annoying frequency when you enter the match screen on my MacBook Pro. In my game, West Ham also sold 77,000 season tickets for a 62,500-seater stadium, a bug that’s still there in the full release. I mean, I wouldn’t put it past David Sullivan, but still…

You’ll also have to wait for FM25 to get the long-trailed addition of women’s football into the game, which is a shame. That disappointment aside, however, FM24 is much more than the pot-boiler many feared it might be.